When Maria Canatonquin was asked to reflect on the past 30years, she laughed and said that she wouldn’t know where to start.
“There’s been so many things happening, I would have to write a book,” said Canatonquin.
The owner of Kanesatake’s Mohawk Gas Bar celebrated the station’s 30th anniversary on Sunday, November 1. For the occasion, she invited Kanehsata’kehró:non for some cake and coffee with Baileys in honour of not only the store, but also her father Peter, who passed away earlier this spring. Peter was 77 when he passed away on April 25.
“He’s the man who started it all,” said Canatonquin.
Sunday was tear-jerking, she said, as she put a picture of her father on the table, wanting him to be part of the celebration.
Canatonquin was only 17 when her father started the business alone, back in 1982. She took over in November 1990, after an exhaustive summer of driving his boat back and forth to Hudson for grocery shopping as the Surete du Québec (SQ) was making the access to the village harder for Kanehsata’kehró:non.
“The police were taking our groceries right out of the back seats, our trunks, and ripping off our stuff,” said Canatonquin, recalling memories surrounding the 1990 Kanehsatà:ke Siege.
Tensions and mistrust between the SQ and the community grew to an unprecedented level during the 78 days of the so-called Oka Crisis - a land dispute that escalated in the Pines between the municipality of Oka and Kanehsata’kehró:non.
She explained that her father lost patience after that summer and sold her the business.
Thirty years later, Canatonquin now said she has truly seen it all.
Through raids, many roadblocks, having to change all pumps at the station, and now even during a quarantine, she proudly kept it open through it all.
“We even had a man setting himself on fire,” said the 55-yearold owner, describing a scene straight out of a movie.
Legend has it that in 1996, a man known around town for his seafood restaurant went bankrupt and was facing justice for trying to set his own house on fire.
“The night before going to court, he poured gasoline on his head, leaned on the car and lit himself on fire,” she said. “It was something, but I opened the next day by 11 o’clock.”
One of the rare times Canatonquin closed was at the beginning of August after the news broke that one of her workers had been in contact with somebody who tested positive for COVID-19. She said her priority was to ensure the safety of her staff and community.
When it comes to the Mohawk Gas Bar workers, Canatonquin doesn’t shy away from how proud she is. While Josephine “Muffet” Beauvais and Jonathan Daoust have been there the longest, Canatonquin said she’s blessed to have all of the staff she does.
“We made it so far! We survived a heck of a lot of stuff around here,” said Muffet, whose been working at the gas station for more than 30 years now and considers the place like her second home.
Muffet has even become famous for her sandwiches and McMuffet breakfast, made with extra love, according to Canatonquin.
“We have a lot of regulars,” said Canatonquin, “But we know what they want for breakfast, what they smoke. Muffet or Johnny have their cigarettes on the counter before they even come in!”
Canatonquin’s wish for the future is to have either one of her children, Tekanatonken or Ruby, take over the business as a way to carry on the family legacy.
Canatonquin said that the station will always represent her father, sitting on the porch and having his coffee.
Towards the end of his life, explained Canatonquin, her father didn’t have much of a social life as he wasn’t allowed to drive, nor could he walk anymore. But he always had Maria’s Gas Bar, his old store that she kept going strong for all these years.
Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door